A life-long resident of Philadelphia and current resident in the Mt. Airy section of the city, Mr. Hilderbrand Pelzer III has a unique passion for the youth of Philadelphia. Mr Pelzer is an award-winning educator. He served the youth as a teacher, principal, and assistant regional superintendent. Impressively, Mr. Pelzer received national recognition for his leadership at the Pennypack House School (a Philadelphia public school which operates within the Philadelphia juvenile prison system ).
When asked, “What sparked your passion for juvenile justice reform including quality education?” Mr. Pelzer said, “I first became involved in correctional education in 1989, as a young man right out of college. I worked as a teacher and coach at the Bensalem YDC, a juvenile correctional facility for many of PA’s notorious juvenile offenders. As a teacher, I had a front row seat to the educational and academic challenges and limitations that just about all of the students demonstrated. In fact, it was my goal to move my career into sports management; but, after observing so much educational despair I decided to pursue a career in educational leadership. I realized that there were a lot of myths about the possibilities and capabilities of high functioning schools in prisons and the willingness of inmates to pursue education or complete a high school education. Also, with the fact that correctional facilities are designed for security and incarceration purposes, integrating and organizing schools inside of them is very difficult. Yet, school-age youth are in jails all around the world. They are entitled to an education. But, there is no model to provide that education.”
While addressing concerns about the juvenile justice system in the United States, but specifically in Philadelphia, one must address the issue of flash mobs. Flash mobs have become dangerous and even deadly. Many believe the teens should be arrested and prosecuted harshly. Mr. Pelzer says, “I think the flash-mob problem demonstrates the destructive path that some youths seek. Youths involved in the flash-mobs, as well as those that seek to engage in criminal activity, should be held for justice.” There are those who would not agree. Some feel flash mobs are the result of the lack of funding for activities and training which interest youths. In other words, they have too much free time, too much energy, too much on their minds, and too few adults caring or listening. Some Philadelphians feel the prosecution of teens involved in flash mobs is selective and disproportionate. They wonder if African-American youths are more prone to being arrested and prosecuted than those of other races. Whichever belief you hold, flash mobs are a problem which must be dealt with and the juvenile justice system must be prepared to address the problem, be the solution, and reform the youths.
Mr. Pelzer has a book entitled Unlocking Potential: Organizing a School Inside a Prison . His “overall goal for writing [his] book [was] to show school superintendents, corrections professionals, teachers, and educators of all levels how to make superior educational services for incarcerated school-age youth come alive.” His book reveals a model which can be replicated in public schools everywhere. Mr. Pelzer says, “The model is built around the important relationships between students and teachers and curriculum and instruction.” His book was inspired by his work inside the Philadelphia Prison System, the 5th largest urban county jail system in the US.
Mr. Hilderbrand Pelzer, III is an example of a man, a strong African-American man, who sees a problem with the system and instead of complaining, he confronted the system with a model created to address the problem. Mr. Pelzer is an agent of change. He makes himself, his knowledge, his wisdom, his education, and his experiences available to incarcerated and at-risk youths (directly or indirectly) so they do not forget that the American Dream is obtainable. Mr. Pelzer reminds the educators and politicians that no one is exempt from living the American Dream regardless of culture, heritage, or criminal background. As he says, “I believe the American Dream is attainable! With the right guidance and support from our community partners we can ALL move closer to reaching the dream.”
Contact Info for Mr. Hilderbrand Pelzer III | Unlocking Potential
Unlocking Potential: Organizing a School Inside a Prison available online at major retailers